Kiryat Eliezer seemed like it would lift off the ground in wild celebration on Saturday after Dekel Keinan dramatically put Maccabi Haifa firmly in the driver’s seat for the title in the penultimate game of the season.
The defender’s header four minutes from time saw off Betar Jerusalem 2-1, while Hapoel Tel Aviv lost the initiative at the hands of its bitter rival Maccabi Tel Aviv in a goalless draw at Bloomfield Stadium.
And suddenly, after taking all the plaudits in recent weeks, and deservedly so, Hapoel Tel Aviv appears to have blown it, and unless Maccabi Haifa fails to beat Bnei Yehuda next Saturday, the championship trophy will be staying up north for another season.
In Saturday’s other top-six playoff match at Ashdod, despite a brace by
Nevo Mizrahi (56, 88) the hosts were beaten 3-2 by Bnei Yehuda, for
whom Shlomi Levy (23), Maharan Radi (70) and Eliran Atar (82) were on
In the bottom-six playoffs, meanwhile, Ahi Nazareth lost
any realistic chance of avoiding relegation from this season’s top
flight with a 2-0 defeat at Hapoel Ra’anana.
Dudu Biton doomed
John Gregory’s side with two first-half goals (22 and 44) from a couple
of exquisite Avi Knafo assists. Due to a goal differential of -41
compared with 14th-placed Ramat Gan’s -22, staying up will be beyond
Gregory’s wildest dreams.
Elsewhere, Hapoel Petah Tikva took a giant stride toward survival, coming from behind to win 2-1 at Hapoel Haifa.
Eden Ben Basat gave Haifa a 10th-minute lead, but the visitors hit back
in the second-half through Osman Bashiru (47) and Ibrahim Bassit (80).
The win means Eli Mahpud’s men have avoided automatic relegation, but
could be dragged into a two-legged playoff with the National League’s
third-placed side should they lose next week against Hapoel Ra’anana
and other results go against them.
In Saturday’s final relegation-playoff match, Hapoel Ramat Gan against
Hapoel Acre finished goalless. Acre will be happier with the point
though, since a far superior goal difference than Ra’anana means that
Yaron Hochenboim’s boys have all but escaped the automatic drop.
Maccabi Haifa 2, Betar Jerusalem 1
The Haifa players and fans were celebrating as though they had already
clinched the championship on Saturday night, and although the words
“counting chickens” and “hatch” may spring to mind, few would argue
with match-winner Keinan that “if we don’t win the league now, we’re
the biggest suckers in the history of Israeli soccer.”
Elisha Levy was slightly more circumspect.
“There’s still one game left, but if there’s any justice, we’ll win the league,” said the Haifa coach.
The hosts took the lead after 11 minutes with a goal of sublime
quality. Yaniv Katan drilled a pass into Vladimir Dvalishvili, and the
Georgian dummied to Shlomi Arbeitman before collecting his fellow
striker’s pass and chipping the ball over the onrushing Ariel Harush.
But the visitors leveled nine minutes later. Shimon Gershon headed on a
corner and former Maccabi Haifa captain Arik Benado poked the ball over
Dvalishvili should then have put the hosts back in front, but he failed
to react quickly enough when the ball dropped to him a yard out.
A stalwart Betar backline kept Haifa at bay for most of the second
period, but Levy’s men kept plugging away and were rewarded for their
persistency in the dying minutes. Lior Rafaelov collected Peter
Masilela’s layoff on the left and sent in a cross to the far post,
where Keinan’s diving header nestled into the corner for what surely
will prove to be the most important goal of his career.
Hapoel Tel Aviv 0, Maccabi Tel Aviv 0
The dejected Hapoel Tel Aviv players trudged off the Bloomfield pitch
on Saturday night, knowing that their rivals had all but ruined their
And while Hapoel was short of its best on the night, praise must go out
to Maccabi for stifling Eli Gutman’s men and looking dangerous on the
Emmanuel Mayuka held off Douglas da Silva well in one of those breaks
early on, but his shot lacked power and Hapoel ’keeper Vincent Enyeama
At the other end, Gili Vermut shot over after a bad clearance by Igor Tomasic, and the midfield playmaker then hit the outside of the post after he was put through by a brilliant Daniel de Ridder flick.
Itai Shechter missed a glorious chance at the start of the second-half,
heading wide from Dedi Ben-Dayan’s cross after getting between the two
Maccabi center backs.
Hapoel went closest scoring with 20 minutes remaining, Da Silva
rattling the crossbar after Vermut’s pass had found the Brazilian all
alone in the box courtesy of Tomasic’s slip.
Liran Strauber then palmed away Shechter’s effort, and da Silva’s
header from the resulting corner bounced agonizingly over the bar.
Maccabi held firm though, while sheer frustration got the better of
Hapoel’s Victor Merey in injury-time when the substitute was sent off
for lashing out at Ronny Gaffney.